If the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 does not get extended by Congress by the end of the year, homeowners will have to start paying income taxes on the portion of their mortgage that is forgiven in a foreclosure, short sale or principal reduction.
“People trying to do short sales are freaked out about it,” said Elizabeth Weintraub, a real estate agent in Sacramento, Calif. “They’re telling me they’ll do whatever it takes to close by the end of the year.”
Should the tax break expire, a large number of mortgage borrowers could be affected. More than 50,000 homeowners go through foreclosure each month.Meanwhile, the number of short saleshas tripled over the past three years to a rate of about half a million a year.And, under the terms of the $25 billion foreclosure abuse settlement, roughly one million borrowers may have their mortgage debt lowered through principal reductions over the next couple of years.
“If there ever was a no-brainer in housing policy, this would be it,” said Jaret Seiberg, a policy analyst for Guggenheim Securities.
Yet, Seiberg is skeptical the exemption will get extended. Now that the election is over, he thinks Congress will be heading into a “lame duck” session, with very little legislation moving forward through the end of the year.
In addition, the cost of the exemption could make it a point of contention, he said. The office of Sen. Max Baucus, who heads the finance committee, estimated the cost of a one-year extension at $1.3 billion.
“Both parties, both houses of Congress agree it’s good policy and it needs to get done,” said Jamie Gregory, chief lobbyist for the National Association of Realtors, which supports an extension. “The hold up is the process. I’m confident it will get done. I just don’t know how.”
Even if Congress allowed the exemption to expire, not all borrowers withforgiven mortgage debt will take a tax hit. If the debt is discharged in a bankruptcy, no tax is due. And anyone who is insolvent — meaning they have more debt than assets — at the time the debt was forgiven — would not have to pay the tax.